WTTO (We're Turning Twenty-One) is a Birmingham-based television station affiliated with the CW Network. It is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group of Hunt Valley, Maryland, which also owns independent WABM. The station, which is licensed in Homewood, broadcasts on UHF channel 21 (DTV on channel 28) from the WTTO Tower on Red Mountain. The station's headquarters are located at 651 Beacon Parkway West.
WTTO was founded as an independent station in 1982 by Chapman Broadcasting. It was, after Mobile's WPMI, Alabama's second independent television station. The station prospered with popular syndicated programming such as movies and older sitcoms. In 1991 WTTO became Birmingham's Fox affiliate, with neighboring WDBB (Tuscaloosa) and WNAL (Gadsden) becoming satellites. In 1996 the stations owner moved the FOX affiliation to WBRC 6, leaving WTTO as an independent again. A year later, WTTO and WDBB became sister affiliates of "The WB Network". On September 18, 2006 the WB was relaunched as "The CW Network" with programming merged from the former WB and UPN networks.
Petitions to the Federal Communications Commission for a new UHF channel in Birmingham began in 1963, with the Chapman Radio and Television Company, owners of WCRT-AM and WCRT-FM arguing that a new station could better serve ethnic and economic minorities in the region. Channel 21 was approved in August 1965, but protests from other applicants caused the FCC to re-open hearings. The Alabama Television Corporation, headed by John Jemison was awarded the broadcast rights in the Fall of 1968, prompting Chapman to file suit. Meanwhile the Birmingham Broadcasting Company, affiliated with the owners of WLPH-AM made its own application and the Birmingham Television Corporation, owners of WBMG-TV, also entered the fray, hoping to score the lower-frequency channel for itself. As part of its efforts to resolve the standoff, the FCC surveyed residents about what they wanted in a new television station. The matter was not resolved until the early 1980s, when Chapman was again awarded its license.
WTTO began broadcasting on April 21, 1982 with a young, relatively inexperienced staff. Penny Haft was general manager and Guy Chancey, then 24, was the station's first promotion manager. The first program broadcast was a rerun of the late 1970s action show, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It quickly built a reputation by airing cult movies and popular syndicated series such as "The Andy Griffith Show", which it promoted with memorable spoof campaigns produced by Karen Cole. Keri Lane-Hontzas pioneered the idea of bringing the station's movies to parks for public screenings.
Arlington Broadcasting bought WTTO in 1983 and sold it to HR Broadcasting in 1987. The station was successful as an independent and declined to host the debut of the Fox network when it first launched in 1986.
Fox's efforts to find a Birmingham-area outlet enjoyed only marginal success with their combination of Tuscaloosa's WDBB, which relocated its tower closer to Birmingham & Gadsden's WNAL. WTTO, which was sold to Boston-based ABRY Broadcasting Partners in 1989, joined with FOX in 1991 and the other two stations became satellites of the combined station, known as FOX 21, one of the country's strongest Fox affiliates.
In 1994 ABRY began a local marketing agreement with WABM, which joined UPN in 1995. The following year brought the Big Switch in Birmingham's television line-up, which left WTTO as an independent as WBRC came under the ownership of the Fox Broadcasting Corporation.
ABC had tried to affiliate with WTTO, but Sinclair was only interested in the prime-time line-up and sports franchise, and did not plan to launch a local newscast on its stations.
WB & CW
In February 1997, WTTO and WDBB affiliated with the WB network, becoming known as WB21, while WNAL became Gadsden's CBS affiliate. The station evolved from mostly old movies, sitcoms and cartoons to a talk-show/reality format supplemented by the WB's afternoon and prime-time shows.
In September 2003, WTTO finally began to produce its own local newscast, titled "WB21 News at 9:00". However, in October 2005, CBS-affiliate WIAT, began producing the newscasts for WTTO. The WB merged with UPN in September 2006 to form "The CW", a network featuring programming from both networks. WTTO is now Birmingham's CW affiliate, known as CW 21.
- "Ch. 21 in your future." (September 1970) Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- Geiss, Chuck (May 17, 2012) "Naked Birmingham". Black & White